Irrespective of whichever part of the world we are currently regarding, everything appears to be becoming more playful in the estimation of literary scholar and games researcher Felix Schniz, who is working as a PreDoc Scientist at the Department of English and American Studies while pursuing his doctoral degree. In his studies, he explores the experiences that are gained while playing video games.
Experience is basically something that is perceived through our senses; something we can exchange views and ideas about. For Felix Schniz, this merely represents one spectrum of experience, which he expands by adding subjective internal experiences: “There is the experience of beauty, or experience in the philosophical sense, i.e. how do I experience the world overall. And there are also spiritual experiences.” In his thesis, he aims to demonstrate that video games can evoke experiences in the players. It is virtually impossible to access private, subjective experiences scientifically, which is why he has chosen the aspect of the British-cultural background in order to throw a light upon how players experience “Britishness” when playing selected video games. He can provide numerous examples: “For instance, at one point in the game, the scenery might depict a pair of shoes, tied together by the laces and flung over an overhead power line. That is a very typical image for bullying amongst schoolchildren in the 1960s.” Schniz believes the cultural context to be of paramount importance for the experience of “Britishness”: There are some games, for example, that deliberately use the age of industrialisation as the historical backdrop in an effort to artistically process England as the motherland of the industrial revolution.
In response to the question about what precisely he does, physically and intellectually, when researching video games, Schniz tells us: “As a literary scholar I work hermeneutically, which means that I interpret, I examine very closely, I endeavour a close reading of the game – or, to be more precise, of a heavily modified notion thereof, which serves the medium appropriately. Taking individual elements in the games, I hope to determine how these experiences come about for the players.” He has chosen to concentrate on the games produced by the development studio “The Chinese Room”. Schniz regards “the game as the mode of our time”, and consequently supports the legitimacy of approaching the object of study with the same methods as those used in the scientific analysis of text. Video games have arrived in mainstream society: “We have players at 3, 4, or 5 years of age. And we have those who are over 60 or 70 years old.” Players are no longer comprised solely of nerds, but of people from all backgrounds. Schniz is convinced: “It is important that we learn to understand this medium, which accounts for such a large part of our life. I am also keen to create awareness for the artistic content of the medium.” It is not entirely surprising that Felix Schniz is an enthusiastic video gamer himself. Why does he enjoy it so much? “In a very positive manner, I have always been able to lose myself in video games, because I become actively involved in the storytelling. I soon realised that this is a very special kind of experience, which I have always enjoyed discussing with others.”
Schniz pursued a degree in English Studies at the University of Mannheim, and found himself “gradually shifting from Literature Studies to film, and finally ending up with the computer game.” In Mannheim, he specialised in processes of modernisation. At the Alpen-Adria-Universität, where he has been working as PreDoc Scientist and doctoral student since the beginning of March, he has found an environment that recognises the artistic value in the games. What is more, he can benefit from the guidance provided by René Schalleger, one of the leading experts in Games Studies from the perspective of Cultural Sciences. The Master’s degree programme in “Game Studies & Engineering”, which is due to commence in the autumn of 2017, intends to provide students with an academic approach to the topic of video games. Schniz is the designated Programme Director, providing advice and support to prospective and future students.
Is it actually possible to gather “experience of life” in a video game? To answer this question, Felix Schniz widens the scope of his response: “In Philosophy, a distinction is made between a primary and a secondary experience, i.e. an experience I make myself, or one that is conveyed to me by a medium, e.g. a film. In a video game, the player is very heavily integrated, it is more immersive than any medium that has come before. What I want to find out is this: Is the video game a primary experience, even if it occurs in a virtual space? What I already know is this: The video game allows connections, in the sense that people exchange their views. They talk about their experiences in the company of others. And: Regardless of whichever experience we are talking about, we only really become aware of it through our exchanges with other people.” Accordingly, he considers the formation of community to be an important aspect of the video game. Further factors include the set of rules, narrative experiences, aesthetic complexes, and competition. For Schniz, the video game is an objet ambigu, it is capable of so much more than what can currently be classified. “It overwhelms you in the most positive way.”